“Mother” is a word that conjures up — at least in the minds of purchasers of cards from Hallmark — a collective image of a full-time nurturer, always loving, supportive, interested in everything her children do and say, always patient. She never raises her voice. Memories of her home-cooked meals cause her adult children to salivate long after she’s gone. I’m sure I could add more to this description, and so could you.
So today, two days before my first Mother’s Day without a mother, I’m creating my tribute, which won’t find its way onto any Hallmark card, but does show the complexity of the relationship many mothers have with their daughters.
I didn’t always find it easy to be my mother’s daughter. She was not a Hallmark mother. Women in her generation thought and acted differently from women in mine. She demanded conformity to make sure I would be liked by others, criticized my housekeeping, because people might talk, and wanted me to become more like her in many ways. She was a terrible cook. I rebelled. I never wanted to be like her. But things change.
When my father died, my mother changed. She never criticized me again, always expressed appreciation for anything I did for her, and enjoyed spending time with me. Not only did she stop finding fault with me, but she no longer worried about conforming to anyone else’s standards.
She made friends with everyone she met, including the school crossing guard who stood at an intersection near her home every morning and afternoon. She always rode the bus to downtown Seattle. While waiting for the bus to take her home, she bought doughnut holes at a shop in front of her bus stop. ” I like to give these to the bus drivers,” she said. “They need a treat.”
She liked to be at the center of attention. She loved the latest fashions and shopped for stylish clothes well into her eighties. She laughed a lot. She never worried, and always expected that whatever situations she faced in life would turn out well. She loved flowers well enough to pick them, uninvited, from neighbors’ gardens and take them home. She tied plastic bread sacks around her head when it rained.
Since she’s been gone, I’ve wondered how much of my mother is in me, and I’ve decided that I’m carrying around a lot of her, as well as of my dad. She wasn’t a Hallmark mother, but as writer Anais Nin said, “We are like sculptors, constantly carving out of others the image we long for, need, love or desire, often against reality, against their benefit, and always, in the end, a disappointment, because it does not fit them.” Fortunately, I had a chance to know my mother after I finally came to appreciate that common myths about a mom didn’t have to fit.